brazil, bridges, & building 5 or 10

One of the key principles of successful college ministries seems to be Movement, a strategic focus on helping students move toward increasing levels of involvement and growth. But I’ve seen a lot more college ministries that have their Program Pillars in place – large group meeting, small groups, service opportunities, leadership team – than I’ve seen college ministries that create purposeful bridges between those Pillars.

But creating bridges is a key to helping Movement happen.

During my recent trip to Brazil, I had the chance to observe one such bridge: the Starbucks Communities organized by Zoe, the young adult church we connected with down there. For those who aren’t involved in Zoe at all, those communities are a helpful bridge to being involved – a far less drastic first step than attending the church worship service. I’ll talk about the Starbucks Communities – and those kinds of bridges – more tomorrow, as this week’s Fridea.

But the intricacies of this method aren’t today’s point. The idea of any “bridge” is to create opportunities for students to take baby-steps (rather than big steps) as they progress through your ministry. My time in Brazil really got me re-thinking about how effective these methods can be.

Any of the following can serve as a bridge:

  • A once-a-month social gathering can bridge between non-involvement and visiting your weekly meeting.
  • A short-term, “trial” small group provides a bridge toward regular participation in small groups.
  • Assigning “deputy leaders,” “apprentices,” “hosts,” “social facilitators,” “prayer warriors,” or other “second tier” positions within small groups can bridge students toward leading a small group later.
  • Taking ownership of organizing a one-time activity can help bridge a student into a permanent service position.
  • A public info session about leadership opportunities can bridge students into potential leadership positions.

And those are simply a few examples. A bridge is simply any method that help students take small, easier steps toward deeper involvement. They’re not your “key structures” in the sense that your weekly meeting or core team might be, but they help get students to the next step with greater ease.

I certainly can’t say what kinds of bridges your campus ministry needs. But I can say with pretty strong certainty that your campus ministry needs to have some bridges. I can also say that it would be very worth your time this summer to create 5 or 10 new bridges to help students increase their involvement and growth!

More tomorrow.

In case you’re wonderin’, that bridge picture is from Northern Illinois U.


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  1. Great post Benson!

    You’re right on in pointing out our need for bridges. Too many of our ministries do not have these built in.

    One of the strange things I’ve noticed over the past 12-15 years in college ministry is a trend away from students taking initiative to cross these ‘bridges’ on their own. Many seem content to remain in the place that they find themselves, and most seem to need a personal invitation (I’m not kidding) to cross over a bridge into a new place of increased involvement and/or responsibility. I presume (for the high percentage of students that fall into this category) that it has to do with the ’emerging adulthood’ phase of life that most college students fall into – one of the main characteristics of these ’emerging adults’ is a lack of desire, or even an unwillingness, to take on ‘adult-type’ responsibilities.

    Have you seen, or heard, this to be true on other campuses around the US? How about what you experienced in Brazil?

    Good stuff man.

  2. Yeah, the personal invitation thing is one of the few methods that I would probably consider a Best Practice (as long as it’s mixed with public announcement of opportunities).

    That’s interesting that you’ve seen a shift – I hadn’t thought of that, but I probably have, too (although I was in college when we were still open to taking on responsibility).

    It certainly could be the “delayed adolescence” thing, at least in areas where college ministry activity really does feel like “responsibility.” I might point to another cause alongside that: The avoidance of “putting down roots” or committing to any one single thing. Any increased involvement leads to less involvement elsewhere, and many Millennials obviously love keeping their feet in as many doors as possible, as long as possible.

    I don’t recall hearing other college ministers bring this up, but that certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Most college ministers haven’t been able to serve for a decade or more, which means our field as a whole isn’t that great at watching trends. It would be interesting to do a study of differences in viewpoint, etc., between college ministers who started when collegians were Gen X and those who have started since students have been fully Millennial… depending on the area of the country and type of campus, I bet the biggest differences would be found comparing pre-1994 and post-2004.

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